For just four days a year, snooker gets played differently from what is deemed normal.
10 minute frames, ball in hand from a foul, the volatile shot clock. There won’t be any referee telling the crowd to quieten down here at what is bound to be a pumped up, raucous crowd in Leicester for the 13th Shoot-out.
Since it’s inception in 2011, there’s hasn’t been a multiple winner which shows just how difficult it is to pick an outright winner. The quintessential pig in a poke! The winner gets into the Champion of Champions later in the year so it’s a lucrative prize plus since 2017, it’s a ranking event victory on your CV.
A 12 year sample of results and records can come in handy to pick players of choice but it certainly can help disregard certain competitors who have a ropey record or just aren’t comfortable in the format.
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Here’s a list of players who are playing this year and might need avoiding.
- Mark Joyce: played in 11 Shoot-Outs, won 4 matches.
- Jamie O’Neill: played in 4, lost 4.
- Xu Si: played in 4, lost 4.
- Ding Junhui: played in 3, lost 3.
- Scott Donaldson: played in 6, won 2.
- James Cahill: played in 6, won 3.
- Duane Jones: played in 6, won 4.
- Yuan Sijun: played in 4, won 1.
- Barry Pinches: Five 1st round defeats in 9.
- Gerard Greene: Seven 1st round defeats in 11.
- Jimmy Robertson: Seven 1st round defeats in 12.
- Jimmy White: Six 1st round defeats in 11.
- Gary Wilson: Never been past the last 32 (8 appearances).
- Chris Wakelin: Only gone past the last 32 once (last year) in 7 appearances.
- Matt Selt: Only gone past the last 32 once (last year) in 12 appearances.
Hossein Vafaei won last year and opens with Shaun Murphy. An intriguing contest for sure and it will be interesting to see how he gets on considering four previous winners lost in the first round the year after. Barry Hawkins, winner in 2012, gave it the best effort in the defence of his title losing in the quarter-final in 2013.
One player who has a very fine record in the event is Xiao Guodong. Xiao is one of the veteran Chinese on tour being an ever present since 2009. The 33-year-old has only made three finals in 13 years, but two have come in this event in 2015 and 2017. On both occasions he lost – to Anthony McGill and Michael White.
Xiao threatened a run in 2020 and 2021 losing in the last 32 both times. In 11 appearances, he’s only lost three times in the first round (his first two Shoot-outs) and accumulated 20 victories which is highly impressive.
It can’t harm his chance that he comes here in decent form following a few wins at the World Grand Prix in Cheltenham this past week, beating Neil Robertson and Ryan Day before Judd Trump halted his process after a gutsy display, 5-3. He opens his account against Ukraine’s Anton Kazakov here which is far from a bad opener with Kazakov without a win on tour.
Xiao is nicknamed ‘Longshot’ and does look a real contender at 50/1.
I wonder if this year could be the year we get a first multiple champion of this event and I have an eye on 2015 champion, the aforementioned Michael White.
‘Lightening’ Michael is another potent winner in this format where he joins Xiao on 20 matches won overall. White won the event as a non ranker in Blackpool and has since then ran close to a second title with a semi-final in 2019 losing to eventual champion, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.
White has only lost one first round match this season, coming in the British Open to World Grand Prix semi-finalist Noppon Saengkham 4-3 which proves his consistency (though hasn’t bypassed the last 16) and has defeated the likes of Barry Hawkins, Ryan Day and Ding Junhui.
White is a real momentum type. When on a roll he is an extremely hard player to budge off the baize. He’s also a quick thinker, busy round the table and this might be a reason why his record in the Shoot-out is good one. He plays Birmingham’s Mitchell Mann first up who has lost in three Shoot-out first rounds in six appearances. I expect White to outrun his current odds of 100/1.
Talking of quick thinkers, Gloucester’s Rob Milkins must come under consideration especially at a three-figure price (100/1).
The Milkman has been a permanent fixture on tour since 1998, has always been naturally talented and in turn always been a potential winner of this tournament. A former top 16 player, Rob has underachieved somewhat in his career though finally broke his ranking title duck after 27 years a pro at last seasons Gibraltar Open. He became the oldest first-time ranking winner since 1988.
This is an event Milkins has enjoyed since the events get-go in 2011. There he made the final losing to Nigel Bond and beat a certain Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last four. He’s also made the quarters in 2015 and again in 2021 which makes 19 wins altogether. Hong Kong’s Andy Lee is Milkins’ tournament opener in East Midlands, a player who’s played twice, lost twice in the Shoot-out previously.
Milkins sits in 4th place this season on the Average Shot Time rankings which goes to show playing under a shot clock is right up his street and could be in for a fruitful week with a big slice of luck.
Lastly, a fourth dart at another player from China, and a player I’m a huge fan of, Zhou Yuelong at 50/1.
Zhou starts the assault on a first ranking title against Duane Jones, a played with a record in this event to forget with only four wins from 6 Shoot-outs and three first round defeats.
To be honest, Zhou has recorded four first round defeats himself, including last year losing to now amateur Steven Hallworth, however in 2020, he proved what he’s capable of making the final losing to Michael Holt, arguably the best ever component of this format with a total of 26 wins. Zhou showed that was no fluke the following year making the last 16, losing to eventual champion Ryan Day by three points.
Zhou is such a calm, savvy customer and will be a mainstay in the worlds top 16 sooner rather than later. He was outstanding in the Northern Ireland Open in October, making a third ranking final losing 9-4 to player of the season so far Mark Allen. Anyone who follows snooker knows Zhou is a terrific all-rounder who can score for fun – he struck eight centuries in Belfast.
He reminds me a bit of Vafaei last season, who like a silent assassin quietly went about his business and weaved his way through the draw. Zhou could break his duck in this ranker in a similar manner to the Iranian. He should be on many peoples radars.